Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Ron Sexsmith, The Last Rider, 2017

Album Review

By Henry Lipput

If there's a more sad and beautiful song than "Who We Are Right Now" released so far this year, I haven't heard it. The song is just one of the truly wonderful tracks on The Last Rider, the new album from master craftsman Ron Sexsmith, his 13th release since his self-titled debut in 1995.

It's no surprise that Sexsmith's songwriting reflects the influences of both past and current greats. He's said his songs are a combination of the folk singers and British Invasion artists he's always admired. And anyone who follows him on Twitter or has taken a look at or listened to his YouTube videos of solo acoustic covers of classics like "Windows On The World" by Bacharach and David, "Wedding Bell Blues" by Laura Nyro (um, dressed up as Nyro), and a great, upbeat "But Not For Me" by the Gershwins recognizes where he's coming from and what he brings to the table (much like the Last Supper homage on the album cover).

But it is a surprise that Sexsmith, over the course of the previous albums, has never recorded with his terrific touring band: Don Kerr (drums), Jason Mercer (bass), Dave Matheson (keyboards), and Kevin Lacroix (guitar). My own look at the CD booklets for those albums showed that only Kerr, a long-time friend of Sexsmith's, has been part of the mix. He played drums on 2001's Blue Boy, banjo on 1999's whereabouts, and was the other half of the Sexsmith & Kerr duo for their Destination Unknown album from 2005.

Kerr co-produced The Last Rider along with Sexsmith; and this combination, along with the use of the musicians the writer and singer knows best, gives the new album a more relaxed feel than many of Sexsmith's recent releases. With both of them hailing from Canada, it obviously also helped that the new album was recorded at The Bathouse studio on Lake Ontario near Toronto.

The sad and beautiful "Who We Are Right Now" is joined on the album by the equally melancholy and lovely opening track "It Won't Last For Long" in which the singer comforts a friend experiencing heartbreak.

"Only Trouble Is" is a gorgeous, forward-looking song and the lyrics mention the good times to come but "the only trouble is I don‘t know when." The upbeat "Evergreen" is another gem about a long-lasting love. And "Dreams Are Bigger" could have been a classic from The Lovin' Spoonful.

But for me, here in the 50th anniversary year of The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, it's Sexsmith's "Breakfast Ethereal" that's a key song on the album. Taking many of that classic album's elements and making them his own, the song begins as a joyful childhood remembrance with clever rhymes as he recalls pretending to be his "captains imperial" heroes, waking up to a morning meal of "breakfast ethereal," and noticing the light from a black-and-white television with its dreadful "soap opera serial."

The song takes a turn in the chorus to reflect on what's been left behind as one becomes an adult: "What have we lost in our mad pursuit of what we already had? / When was the last time we saw the sun rise? / And what did we gain in return / But a lesson that we’ve already learned." In addition, the song's string and horn arrangements are right out of the George Martin playbook.

"Breakfast Ethereal" is very nearly a Sgt. Pepper in miniature, and once again highlights the things that make Ron Sexsmith such an amazing songwriter.

The Last Rider is out now on Compass Records.

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